Innovation through Big Data Insights: Utilities and the Future of Data Connectivity | The Knowledge Dynasty

Innovation through Big Data Insights: Utilities and the Future of Data Connectivity

Denver, CO (PRWEB) October 08, 2014

Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Schneider to discuss big data analytics, technology innovation and their impact on transforming how utilities do business. In his current role as Vice President of Operations Support for SDG&E and SoCalGas and his former role as VP of Customer Operations at SoCalGas, Schneider has seen a lot of change over the years in the utilities industry. Utility business models are becoming highly information-driven and consumer-centric with big data analytics providing a constant data underpinning for productivity, growth and innovation that directly benefits customers.

What follows is our edited interview that captures Schneider’s latest thinking on big data analytics and how he got there:

ClickFox: What drove you to consider big data analytics as part of the solution?

Schneider: We wanted insights into our customers’ experiences to ensure that we were providing the optimal customer journey. We needed to encourage the use of self-service channels for the simpler, routine transactions while helping our customers save time, energy and money. We gained access to quantitative data that helped us understand how customers were interacting with us and how successful they were in completing a given transaction in their preferred channel. Focused on how customers interacted via the Web, IVR and Live Agent in order to anticipate customer activities and facilitate the best outcome.

ClickFox: What was the original challenge that you faced?

Schneider: The impetus for analyzing customer journeys was that the data were in silos. While we had a lot of good hunches, we wanted to test those and examine the actual trends in the data going back in time to see if it made sense for customers to move from contacting agents to accessing self-service channels. The data told interesting stories some of which were expected and others that were more of a surprise. In the IVR data, we immediately saw opportunities. We’d originally focused on speech technology recognition, but the data was telling us that customers were not using this new technology because it was clumsy and not tuned to our diverse customer base. We found we needed to fine-tune the IVR and reestablish the push-button decision process (a.k.a. say or press). We also found that customers were having difficulty with our utility-speak terminology in the web and because of this were abandoning this channel and calling our live agent channel. This was concerning, and we needed to revise our language to be more customer-friendly. And finally, we realized that we needed to also achieve channel parity to ensure the self-service channels were no more restrictive than the CSR channel. Bridging the data silos allowed us to leverage the richness of the data to take an innovative approach to making everything more intuitive for our customers.

ClickFox: What benefits have you seen to date?

Schneider: The return on investment has been great. We saved money by putting more effective IVR, web and mobile solutions in place that didn’t require live agents, effectively reducing our live call load by millions of calls while providing a more beneficial alternative for customers to use for transactions – our customer satisfaction scores rose as our costs dropped. It was a quasi-outsourcing opportunity. We didn’t want to grow the team or go offshore so instead we encouraged customers to use self-service channels.

ClickFox: How has it impacted your operations?

Schneider: Our operations costs have decreased significantly. With new technologies and process investments going forward, there’s an opportunity to get additional savings across the company through informed decision making using journey analytics. What we did initially was drive down call volumes and improved the customer experience. We focused on what the customers needed like an easy way to set up payment arrangements or payment extensions so that customers actually preferred quick and easy self-service options. We continued to add functionality in the self-service channels addressing appliance appointments, service turn-offs and other more transactional services using this analytics. Our agents were then able to focus on strategic opportunities, like going paperless on the initial service turn-on, providing customers important information, and engaging customers in early adoption of smart meters.

ClickFox: What advice or best practices might you offer to other organizations that want to gain value out of their data?

Schneider: Best thing I can think of in developing your big data strategy is to anchor your analytics to your business drivers and to make certain your planning is for the long term so that you don’t inadvertently create more data silos that have to be maintained. Prioritize any engineering-driven effort. It’s easy to assume that more information is better for customers, but no one wants to be inundated with a ton of information unless it’s relevant to them. Just as we’re seeing in other industries with personalized advertising and other content tailored to my most recent search, we need to take the same individualized approach to our customers in the utility space.

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